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Cyprus

Suspected people smugglers deny charges

File photo

Five men held in connection with smuggling 131 migrants in November denied related charges before the Paphos criminal court on Tuesday.

The migrants, mostly Syrians, arrived in a boat early on November 4 in the Pomos area. Among them were five women and eight children.

The court adjourned for December 19 when it will convene to decide whether the suspects, aged 43, 53, 38, 49 and 25, will remain in custody until their trial on June 1, 2020 at 9am.

The suspects face charges relating to assisting illegal entry and residence into the country, people smuggling, and carrying people on an unsafe vessel.

Two of the men, 43 and 53, were arrested on November 4, while they were trying to flee in a speed boat near the area where the 131 migrants were found.

They argued they were out fishing for tuna, but it was not tuna season and they did not have any fishing gear on board.

The 38-year-old owner of the boat the migrants were in was also arrested, while two testimonies against the 49-year-old man and 25-year-old man led to their arrests in the following weeks.

According to police, the passengers of the boat paid around €1,800 each to their traffickers.

State prosecutor Irini Savva asked the court to remand all the suspects in custody to prevent them from fleeing.

The 38-year-old boat owner, who represented himself in court, said he is a permanent Limassol resident, pays social insurance and has no association with the suspects.

The lawyers of the two defendants, 49 and 25, requested their clients be released on bail pending their trial since the charges they face were not as serious.

They also argued their clients were permanent residents with their families and there was no reason for them to flee the country.

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